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This is a half page ad Houdini took out in Variety on October 7, 1911. As you can see, he's giving the all clear to his competition to perform his latest invention without consequences. Note that he also uses this ad to announce he's giving up his latest passion: "P.S.–I have given up Aviation, because there are so many Aviators and Only One Houdini."
The invention he's talking about here is the Double Fold Death Defying Mystery, a dramatic improvement to his Milk Can escape. In fact, conventional thinking has always been that this was his way to deal with the many imitators who had copied his Milk Can. But here he is inviting them to copy it?
This wasn't the only inexplicable thing Houdini did this week. He was playing Keith & Proctor's 5th Ave. Theater in New York, and for reasons that aren't clear, he took himself out of the star position, which his contract guaranteed. Instead he played sixth on the bill, and he seemed to enjoy it! Variety reported:
"The experience is a delightful one," said Houdini. "I never imagined how 'soft' it was in the middle of the show. Monday afternoon I rushed out and commenced to talk fast, to keep them from walking out on me. But I didn't see anyone with their hats on and the audience looked so restful, I took my time."
So what is wrong with Houdini? Was he having some sort of breakdown? Or was he crazy like a fox?
At this time, Houdini has already developed and copyrighted (via playlet) his Water Torture Cell. But he would not debut it for another year. So maybe this was a way to get the competition to invest in Double Fold boxes and managers to book their houses full of Double Fold knocks offs. And then Houdini brings out the Torture Cell. Boom!
I should say I don't know of any imitators who actually did copy the Double Fold Mystery. It was an expensive and complex piece of apparatuses. In fact, the Double Fold chest can still effectively hold its secrets, as I discovered last year. So maybe Houdini is simply daring his competition to try and figure it out his latest invention and this is really just a sly bit of advertising.
Whatever was going on here, Houdini never ceases to amaze!